Blue Crab Population Surges in Chesapeake Bay

Published June 14, 2012

The juvenile blue crab population in Chesapeake Bay has surpassed its highest level ever recorded, and the overall blue crab population in the Bay reached its highest level since 1993, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Huge Increase over Last Year

The DNR issued its findings after its winter dredge survey, conducted annually by the DNR and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

The survey found 764 million blue crabs, a 66 percent increase over last year. The juvenile crab population exploded to a record high of 587 million, nearly three times the number recorded last year. The previous high was 512 million, recorded in 1997.

“Today’s announcement marks four years in a row of progress to restore the blue crab. This kind of progress … only happens when we work together.” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) said in a written press statement.

Tight Restrictions Aided Recovery

In recent years Maryland and Virginia have partnered to create and enforce strict catch limits on Chesapeake Bay crabbing. In 2008 the two states joined with the Potomac River Fisheries Commission and reduced the harvesting of female crabs by 34 percent. 

In 2011, Maryland’s General Assembly passed bills that increased the state’s ability to enforce catch limits and hiked fines for violators. The state also increased fees in its commercial fishing license system.

Restrictions Will Remain in Force

State officials are unlikely to ease crabbing restrictions despite the booming blue crab population. 

“Even though the overall abundance is good news, the number of spawning-age adults is much lower than the number of recruit, or young, crabs,” said Brenda Davis, blue crab program manager for Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources. “Recruit crabs made up 77 percent of the 64 million crab abundance estimate from the Bay winter dredge survey. Therefore, the department has decided to maintain the level of conservation that was in place for the 2011 crabbing season.”

Albert Todd, executive director for the Alliance for Chesapeake Bay—a nonprofit with a mission to preserve the bay and protect its waters from pollution—agrees with the cautious approach.

“Anybody worth their salt looks at trends, and one year does not constitute a trend,” Todd said. “This year, it’s up. Looks like the regulations seem to have favored this year’s crop. But with any kind of species in the bay, there are so many factors determining overall health. We really need many years to determine a trend.”

Cheryl Chumley, [email protected], writes from northern Virginia.